(originally pasted July 30, 2012)
In the aftermath of the Aurora Colorado shootings, as was the case after Columbine, Virginia Tech, and many others, we revive, for a short time, a national conversation about why, about how and about what this tragic event even means in an existential sort of way. We come up with short lived solutions and blame this, that and the other group. Last month was no different. As writer Liel Lebovitz wrote recently, "...after a maniac shot up a packed movie theater in Colorado last week, the prognoses were quick to arrive: Ban guns. Don't ban guns, but ban assault rifles. Don' ban assault rifles. Ban violent movies. Don't ban violent movies. Ban midnight screenings of popular movies, don't ban midnight screenings of popular movies..." As you can see and have probably heard and read, there hasn't been a quality thoughtful response. Banning guns or banning anything for that matter is never really the thoughtful, long-term Jewish response.
So if gun control debate is neither a solution, nor outlawing midnight showings of movies what is? Let's be more serious than this. Rather than be distracted, we should take concrete steps that might actually solve our problems. How about this one: providing readily accessible mental-health services. This I believe is one good first step—as underscored by an unbelievable but sadly common reaction to the shooting.
Recently, Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert, offered his opinion that the shooting was the result of "ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs." Seriously? This is neither accurate, nor connected to the source of the issues relative to a person so seriously affected by mental illness related issues. If this terrible incident is a result of attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs as Gohmert's reasoning suggests, then what beliefs are being attacked? I am not sure. What I do know is that the shooter was not attacking Judaism or Christianity or any other religion for that matter. Perhaps, as Liebovitz suggests, by ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs we mean our ongoing refusal to provide the sort of access to health-care professionals who might be able to do something about the fact that while 9,484 people were shot to death in homicides in 2008, 18,735 turned the gun on themselves that year. Rather than suggesting that they might not have done so had they been denied access to guns, the real Judeo-Christian thing to do would be to make sure these troubled souls always have someone they could talk to, no matter what their financial situation."
It is not unreasonable to connect the mental health dots in this way. What if resources were readily available to those who need it? Indeed, a day after the shooting, a chart began making the rounds on Facebook, citing the statistic that while the United States lost 9,484 people to gun violence in 2008 (the last year for which comprehensive data are available), Finland—where, by the way, guns are easy enough to come by, with 32 privately owned firearms per every 100 civilians—lost only 17. In Finland, there are inpatient and outpatient programs designed to accommodate anyone feeling anxiety or distress, as well as 24-hour emergency services provided free of charge. The government also provides occupational health care, which, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health's website, "supports the maintenance of mental health, prevention of problems and early identification of problems among the working-age population." Visit the website of the Colorado Department of Human Services, and you're told that if you happen to be uninsured, you should seek "family members or close friends who can provide financial assistance." Which approach do you think is more Jewish if we're trying to stop a deranged young man from reaching the point of no return?
Banning anything in the aftermath of tragedy is not a helpful long-term solution. Getting to the root of the problem and providing real quality mental health services just might be a thoughtful way to provide the necessary safe outlets for those in need. The call to help those in need and those who cannot help themselves is our historic, Prophetic and quintessentially Jewish response to the broken things around us. We must not fall short of this responsibility. Our very lives are at stake.
Our hearts and prayers go out to those who were killed in Colorado and their family and friends who are grieving. And while we are praying, let us also be mindful of those who are dying every day while we try desperately to find solutions. I pray we will move quickly and decisively to find the healing we all need.